House Declares War on Public Schools

Talk about micromanagement.

HB 364 would require every public and public charter school in Idaho to start classes on the first Tuesday after Labor Day.

And guess who’s sponsoring it?

The House Education Committee.

So members aren’t content with deciding the number of hours each student must spend in classes and which classes are required. They also want to dictate that all school calendars resemble those of the 1960s.

There are reasons that classes start in August. Folks like classes to start before football games do. Kids are more adapted to the heat–and more apt to survive unairconditioned classrooms–in August than June.  The less time kids have to forget what they learned the previous school year, the better. And families like the longer breaks at Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring.

HB 364 may only be a straw, but the camel’s back is pretty strained.

The House is at war with public schools.

It’s still hard to believe that the Education Committee made the outrageous move of throwing out all certification and content standards. Yes, the Senate Education Committee undid their foolishness, but House Republicans delivered three more blows against public schools last week.

The House passed HB 347, over Speaker Scott Bedke’s opposition, that would make all taxing districts wait 11 months after a bond fails before requesting a vote on another one.

Since it takes a ⅔ vote to pass a bond, districts tend to put off that first request until overcrowding and building deficiencies are not just projected, but obvious to all paying attention.

And, unlike jails, schools can’t just send kids home until adequate space opens up.

And the State Affairs Committee proposed HB 393 that would allow votes on school levies and bonds only in May and November.

Most school districts present levy elections in March. A November vote means they’d have to budget for the 2021-22 school year before the 2020-2021 was well underway.  A May vote means districts won’t know what funds will be available before the deadlines for issuing teacher contracts and pre-registering students for the next year.

Legislators know this. That’s why school districts were allowed March and August election dates when the legislature acted to consolidate dates.

You’d think some Republicans are unhappy that public schools keep functioning in spite of hurdles the legislature sets up.

Sure, charter schools survive without levies.  The legislature gives them a per pupil allotment more than twice as large as most public schools receive.

Charter school supporters didn’t even have to pass an initiative to make that happen.

 The Education Committee captured headlines again when three Republican members walked out of a presentation on recommendations from Governor Little’s  “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” task force.

Idaho’s suicide rate is fifth highest in the nation. Nearly one-fourth of students surveyed said they’d seriously considered suicide in the past year.

Montana, with a suicide even higher than Idaho’s, passed a million-dollar suicide prevention program in 2017 and saw completed suicides drop 15% the first year.

Oregon, ranking 14th, is just now implementing a $1 billion program aimed at improving students’ mental and behavioral health.

The Idaho task force recommended a $1 million program to train teachers to identify high risk students and address risky youth behaviors.

Republicans Barbara Ehardt and Tony Wisniewski argued that we should conjure up the 1960s and let such problems be taken care of at home.

They didn’t even go so far as recommending thoughts and prayers.

Are these the best legislators Idaho voters can find?

Stacey Abrams explains how to compete in a tough state

This week I’ve been listening to The Wilderness podcast about the path to victory for Democrats in the presidential election. During the fourth episode of the second season, “Chapter 4: The Southeast,” the host of the show, former Obama head speechwriter Jon Favreau, interviews Stacey Abrams about how she accomplished her historic run for Governor of Georgia in 2018. 

Abrams came incredibly close to becoming the Governor of Georgia even though there hasn’t been a Democrat in the Governor’s mansion for a decade, there has never been an African American woman Governor of Georgia (oh, wait that’s every state), and voter suppression is historically embedded in Georgia’s electoral system. 

Abrams’ approach to her groundbreaking race in a very difficult state holds lessons for Democratic candidates here in Idaho and in Canyon County.  

Work on both expanding the electorate and winning over existing voters 

Abrams’ strategy included both registering new voters as well as campaigning in places where “Democrats had given up hope.” 

Abrams’ campaign increased the youth vote in Georgia by 139% and the black vote by 40%. In fact, more black voters voted for her in 2018 than the total of all Democrats who voted for Governor just four years before.  Abrams explained that only 20% of new registrants are likely to turn out to vote, so her team made sure people who were newly registered were educated on the importance of their vote as well as the process of how to vote.

Abrams did not stop with expanding the electorate. She also campaigned to “low-propensity voters,” those who are unlikely to vote, and “swing voters,” those who frequently change their political ideology. 

Abrams explained that new registrants, low-propensity voters, and swing voters are likely to ignore political advertising on TV, radio, and social media. Instead she explains that “these voters need talked to,” which is why she made her field team the foundation of her campaign.

Focus on voter outreach and build the field team early

Abrams started building her field team in June and July of 2017 for her election in 2018. Because of this, “We were able to knock on doors and have thoughtful conversations months in advance of both the primary and the general.” As her team raised more money, they expanded their field team. 

She explained that if her team didn’t talk to voters and “explain to them why their vote would matter, all the advertising in the world wouldn’t matter, because they would essentially ignore it.” They eventually bought TV and digital advertising, but “field had to be the baseline.” 

Build local teams 
Abrams’ team focused on addressing specific community needs instead of high-level ideas like “jobs and healthcare.” To do this effectively they hired their organizers locally. They didn’t hire organizers from Atlanta and bus them to Albany, they hired organizers from Albany. She explains, “We made sure we had people from community talking about community so that their connection to the vote was real and authentic.” This also ensured that she wasn’t just another politician showing up in a community asking for votes and leaving only empty promises behind, she was training local people in political activism and organizing.

At the end of the interview with Abrams, Favreau summarized some important points he’d heard from multiple politicians including Abrams while making his podcast.

“The people who aren’t voting may look like Democrats, but that doesn’t mean their views are aligned with Democratic activists or regular Democratic voters. They are more skeptical of politicians and more disappointed with politics in general. These voters can be persuaded to vote if organizers and candidates are willing to show up and listen to their concerns and not just a few weeks before the election.”

Our local Democratic candidates can learn a lot from Abrams. We need local organizers having important conversations about what is needed in each community, and we need these organizers on the ground early. 

Idaho House committees attack regulations

The Idaho House declared all-out war on regulations last week.  

The House Education Committee led by annihilating existing standards for teacher certification and for curricula in English, math, and science. 

The committee didn’t just riddle the standards with holes. They killed them outright–though the Senate Ed Committee may still resurrect them.  Existing regulations need only pass one germane committee to remain in effect; they don’t go before the full House or Senate.  

I have to admit that I was totally unaware that voters were unhappy that teachers had to have credentials, especially now that we have alternative education programs that substitute a summer institute for a year of graduate credits and allow people with no credentials to teach in charter schools. I think teachers should know that parroting isn’t comprehension and should have college credits in the subjects they teach.  

Some voters do complain that the math and English standards, which closely mirror ‘common core’ standards used by most other states, cripple local control and replaced needed instruction time with expensive, time-consuming testing. 

Ed committee members, however, didn’t argue for local control or less testing. They complained that student scores have failed to rise and called for new standards that “work.”  So the Idaho science standards, written by some of the state’s best educators, got thrown out with the ‘common core’ ones.  

And the Department of Ed is now mandated to write standards that show Idaho’s ill-funded schools are doing a great job. 

    The House Agricultural Committee joined the attack on existing regulations by killing rules barring crop dusters from spraying pesticides on occupied structures, during certain wind speeds, or near hazard areas.

After all, regulations drive up costs for private companies. 

Members of the industry argued that crop dusters today are skilled and professional and that only the Federal Aviation Agency has the power to regulate items in flight. 

Never mind that the FAA has never regulated Idaho crop dusters.  And never mind that today’s pesticides are designed to be faster acting and more potent than ever.

 Idaho’s Department of Agriculture actually had the audacity to ticket a pilot after a dozen Parma farmworkers were hospitalized.  

Regulations that get enforced are the worst.  

And the House Resources and Conservation Committee joined the attack on regulations by blocking a bill that would have fined individuals up to $1000 for blocking access to public roads. A study by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership estimates that private blockades prevent Idahoans from accessing 208,000 acres of the state’s public lands. 

So what if you can no longer pick berries at the spot your family has liked for decades. Regulations are bad. And Idaho can boast of having fewer pages of regulations than any other state.  

So what do these attacks mean for Idahoans? 

The proposal to fine people for blocking roads is dead this session.

The three existing regulations will now go to the ‘germane’ Senate committees. If they pass there, they will remain in effect.  

If they don’t, the agencies involved have the right to adopt ‘temporary regulations’ which the same committees will give thumbs up or down next session.  

If both the House and Senate Agricultural committees want the state’s power to monitor crop dusting gone, the Department of Agriculture would risk cuts in funding if they reinstated the regulations. 

But the House Education Committee hasn’t said it doesn’t want standards–heaven forbid that local school districts have a say–but it hasn’t asked for specific changes. Some Republican members have said their vote doesn’t change anything at all. 

Though it does give them points with some big donors.    

  

You can make a real and lasting impact this election season by becoming a Democratic Precinct Captain 

Precinct Captains and precinct organizers are crucial to the success of candidates–and Democrats don’t have nearly enough of them in Canyon County.

Precinct Captains gather information from voters in their local area that candidates at all levels need.     

Candidates start their campaigns by appealing to known Democratic supporters for donations and volunteer help. Then candidate teams work to persuade undecided voters to vote for them. Finally, as election day approaches, teams Get Out The Vote (GOTV) by making sure both original and newly-persuaded supporters get to the polls.  

Precinct Captains make it possible for candidates to know who the Democratic supporters and the undecided voters are. Without this information each Democratic candidate has to use their volunteer time and donations figuring it out on their own. Without good voter information, each candidate needs to knock hundreds of extra doors. This is a very inefficient way for Democrats to win elections. 

This problem is compounded because often candidates don’t share the information they find out about voters. For example, none of the information the presidential candidates figure out about Canyon County voters will be shared with the Canyon County Democrats or our local candidates. 

When precinct captains figure out which voters are which, every Democratic candidate – local, statewide, or federal – is able to use that information to help their campaigns. And the information will be available to candidates in future elections as well as this one. The information Precinct Captains gather this year will help Democratic candidates for years.

To be a good Precinct Captain you start by introducing yourself to the other known Dems in your area (we have lists). I promise that many of these Dems will be happy to hear from you. It is likely that they feel isolated, and you can show them that they aren’t alone. Some of these Dems will probably be interested in helping you and soon you’ll have a small team. 

The next job is to talk to some of the 100s of voters that we know nothing about. Information on which voters are Democrats, middle-of-the-road, undecided, or Republicans is incredibly helpful to every Democratic candidate. 

It also helps if Precinct Captains can discuss what issues matter to all of these voters. Are the people in your precinct mostly worried about their kids’ schools? Or their healthcare options? Or the environment? Knowing what voters care about helps Democratic candidates understand their constituents and makes it possible for them to connect with voters on the issues that matter. 

As a Precinct Captain you may also find yourself registering new voters, helping people with absentee forms, and driving people to the polls on election day. And you’ll help with GOTV efforts by making sure all the Democrats in your precinct actually get out and vote. 

Precinct Captains have other duties within the structure of the Democratic party. They elect the District Chairs and County officers who vote on the Idaho Democratic party leadership. (Between you and me though, no other duties are nearly as important as getting to know the Democrats in your neighborhood.) 

By becoming a Precinct Captain you can make an impact on Democratic campaigns this year and in the future. 

If you are even a little interested, email us at CanyonCountyDems@gmail.com. We can get coffee and talk more about your precinct. 

And do it soon. Ada County has invited Canyon County Precinct Captains and potential Precinct Captains to a training on Feb. 22. Even if you are just curious, you can attend this training to learn more. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/precinct-captain-training-tickets-86747242337 

Regulations: Good or bad?

Update on my Jan. 28 column : The legislature is no longer considering a bill regulating changes in party affiliation prior to Idaho’s Presidential Primary this year.  

 Republicans fight big government.  

That hasn’t stopped them from creating laws that allow the state government to micromanage school curricula and budgeting and to dictate how much and how county  and city governments may collect revenue.  

And it certainly hasn’t stopped Republicans from crafting laws that give Idaho an incarceration rate roughly double that of Russia. Or from seeking ways to throw the roughly 1,500 Idaho women who get abortions each year into jails that we can’t afford to build. 

But just ask them–Republicans fight big government.    

Now, no one is going to say they’re happy that the price of a pair of Epipens which counteract life-threatening allergies has increased from $450 to $700 in five years.  

But many believe doing nothing is better than getting government involved. 

And no one is happy that 346 people died when two Boeing 737 MAX planes crashed within months of its release. 

But that doesn’t keep Republicans from advocating only self-regulation for industry. What could go wrong with pork processing plants policing themselves?        

 Leading the fight for deregulation are big corporations (aka big political donors) and minions like ALEC (which writes bills for state legislators) and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. 

So when House Minority leader Ilana Rubel introduced a bill with new regulations in mid-January, the Freedom Foundation gave it one of the lowest scores ever: -7. 

This bill, singled out as one of the terriblest of the terrible, would require daycare facilities to transport children “safely and legally, using child safety restraints as required by state law…”

It would require criminal background checks on all persons who regularly came in contact with the children at a daycare. 

And it would require day care operators to take 20 hours of training each year in subjects such as first aid and ‘pediatric rescue breathing.’ 

Well, you can be sure the Idaho House voted that bill down 23-44.  (Seven Canyon County representatives helped make that defeat possible–Greg Chaney, Robert Anderst, Rick Youngblood, Brent Crane, and Gary Collins.)

Day care operators were happy with the bill. Yet, 44 legislators fought the bill even after Rep. Rubel pointed out that Idaho stood to lose $2.5 million in federal support for the Idaho Childcare Program if our regulations weren’t updated.

Is it Federal money legislators don’t like–or kids? 

This is, after all, the same legislature that gives parents the final word on whether a child receives medical care and the right to choose husbands for 15-year-old daughters.

Now, a bill promoting new regulations is generating a Republican vs. Republican confrontation. 

Idaho billionaire–and major Republican donor–Frank VanderSloot has created the Idaho Patient Act, requiring doctors and medical facilities to make patient bills timely and clear–and to cap medical collection fees at $750, if contested, and $350 if not. 

Vandersloot cares because one of his employees was hit with $6,200 in collection fees on a $294 bill–which she had not received before it was turned over to a law firm for collection.  

And the manager of that law firm–Medical Recovery Services–is Rep. Bryan Zollinger, (R-Idaho Falls.)  He claims that the new regulation would force everyone’s medical bills up because doctors would just have to pay the cost of collection.    

Would doctors actually authorize $6200 in expenses to collect a $294 bill? 

Vandersloot’s bill will be introduced by powerful legislators–Jason Monks, assistant House majority leader, and Kelly Anthon, Senate majority caucus leader.  They cite the bill as a ‘reasonable solution’ to a ‘convoluted problem.’  

Will the pro- or anti-regulators win?  Stay tuned.